Hartmann von Aue (Writer)


(ca. 1160-1200) poet, novelist

Like virtually all great writers of medieval Germany, little is known regarding Hartmann von Aue’s life. From references made in his own works and in the writings of his contemporaries, it can be surmised that the writer was born to an aristocratic family and grew up near the southern German city of Freiburg. He likely received a clerical education and learned Latin and French before beginning his activities as a writer in royal and aristocratic courts.

Hartmann’s first works were poetry and courtly religious tales, but his literary fame and importance rests on the strength of his longer verse narratives written between 1180 and 1200. His first novel, Erec (ca. 1187), was the first story about King Arthur’s court written in the German language. He based Erec and his other Arthurian romance, Iwein (ca. 1193), on the work of the French writer chretien de troyes, but he often diverged from his source to impart his own unique vision of courtly life and morals.

Hartmann’s most well-known and personal work is his Poor Heinrich (ca. 1200). Written in rhyming verse, the work tells the story of the hero’s illness and ultimate physical and spiritual redemption. It is a kind of miracle tale with a strong Christian message. For his mercy and faith, Heinrich is ultimately healed by God and therefore serves as a model of Christian belief and self-sacrifice. Considered by many as Hartmann’s masterpiece, Poor Heinrich established the writer as a key figure in medieval German literature, and the work has given rise to many modern interpretations and variations, from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy-tale version to Longfellow’s Golden Legend.

The scholar Volker Mertens has written of Hartmann von Aue, “In his poetic precision and sensibility… his mild irony and his feeling for social and existential problems . . . Hartmann emerges as a writer with modern subjectivity and vision.” These qualities continue to make Hart-mann’s work both relevant and moving for present-day readers.

An English Version of Works by Hartmann von Aue

Arthurian Romances, Tales and Lyric Poetry: The Complete Works of Hartmann Von Aue. Translated by Frank Tobin, Kim Vivian, and Richard Lawson. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2001.

Works about Hartmann von Aue

Hasty, Will. Adventures in Interpretation: The Works of Hartmann von Aue and Their Critical Reception. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1996.

Jackson, William H. Chivalry in Twelfth-Century Germany: The Works of Hartmann Von Aue. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell & Brewer, 1995.

Mills, Mary Vandegrift. Pilgrimage Motif in the Works of the Medieval German Author Hartmann Von Aue. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.

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